Metro Vancouver's homelessness task force is demanding the provincial government step up to deal with what it calls a "crisis" level of homelessness in the region.

The task force released its new action plan yesterday on the issue. It estimated at least 4,000 people experience homelessness in the region and there are 70 homeless camps throughout the region.

The task force made a number of recommendations for the provincial government including: reviewing the $375 shelter allowance, improving health services for people experiencing homelessness and creating 3,000 new transitional housing units over the next three years.

In response to the report, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the province spent $375 million last year to provide affordable housing and rent supplements, and provided $138 million to provide emergency shelter and housing for the homeless.

Provincial money not being spent wisely: mayor

But Nicole Read, mayor of Maple Ridge and the task force's co-chair, said the money was appreciated but not being used effectively.

"Simply spending money is not enough to actually produce an outcome in a positive direction. There needs to be a plan," she said.

"Right now, there's no evidence-based decision making around homelessness in Metro Vancouver. It's the reason we continue to see money spent and we continue to move in the wrong direction."

Read argued there are few measures in place to prevent vulnerable people from becoming homelessness — particularly youth. 

"How many reports does the representative for children and youth need to put out about the challenges of kids in care transitioning into adulthood? We need to get that upstream investment so we can start to prevent future generations of people from hitting the street."

Cities shoulder disproportionate burden

Read said municipalities are shouldering a heavy tax burden when it comes to dealing with this crisis.

"Cities are spending $200 million of local and regional taxpayer money. That money is being diverted from other resources that other local governments are supposed to provide," she said.

 Read said she'd like to see all of the parties running in the next provincial election address the issue in their platforms.

"It's simply unacceptable for us to not produce a result for these people who are absolutely our most vulnerable citizens."

Need to create partnerships: province

In a statement, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the report failed to recognize homelessness was only part of the equation, and pointed to the investments the province had by made to increasing the housing supply and facilitating home ownership for low- and middle-income British Columbians.

He called for more co-operation between the municipalities and the province.

"We need assistance from the Metro Vancouver mayors, who can expedite development approvals for supportive and rental housing. They can use their land-use tools and zoning to create higher densities and pre-zone land to expedite affordable rental housing," he said.

"We need their assistance, not just their recriminations."

With files from The Early Edition


To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Nicole Read on Metro Vancouver homelessness task force report